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Texas Sportsman
I-35 Quackers
These hot waterfowling locations offer you a chance at some exciting duck shooting along the I-35 corridor between Dallas and our state capital.

Photo by Tom Migdalski

Mention Texas waterfowling and most pre-dawn coffee shop conversations quickly turn to the Texas Gulf Coast or the Panhandle.

And for good reason, I might add: Both regions winter clouds of ducks and geese each year, much to the delight of hunters waiting for morning flights over saltwater decoy spreads or a rig of blocks tossed onto a windswept playa lake.

Other savvy waterfowlers across the state think of the bottomland hardwoods of deep East Texas, the sloughs along the Red River Valley, or even semi-arid stock tanks in the Cross Timbers or Rolling Plains region of the Lone Star State.

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The guess here, however, is that few if any of these "Java Joe" conversations about the best spots to hunt waterfowl in the state will center on the I-35 corridor, the giant, serpentine asphalt strip that knifes through the heart of Texas from Dallas/Fort Worth to the Austin area and beyond.

Dove hunting in the I-35 corridor -- 100 miles' worth on either side of the freeway? Sure thing, pal. Quail hunting? Go west of I-35, and, you bet. Whitetails and turkeys? Ditto on both accounts to the east and the west of the sprawling superhighway.

But ducks? Better look elsewhere, buddy.

Or maybe not. If you do that, you could be making a serious mistake, according to waterfowl biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"There is some pretty good duck hunting in there if you find the right spot," said Dave Morrison, waterfowl program leader for the TPWD in Austin.

Corey Mason, the TPWD waterfowl biologist for East Texas, agrees that there's a surprising amount of waterfowl -- not to mention good waterfowl hunting -- to be found in the Post Oak Savannah and the Blackland Prairie ecological regions that lie to the east of I-35.

For proof, Mason points to the midwinter waterfowl surveys that his agency flies each year in cooperation with other Central Flyway states. "A look at duck numbers for the Post Oak Savannah and the Blackland Prairies has typically over 500,000 ducks estimated, which is No. 2 or No. 3 each year in the number of ducks in Texas," he said.

Keep in mind, Mason notes, that those figures represent two ecological regions put together for the annual duck count. Still, it represents an eyebrow-raising number of quackers making use of the regions' surprising amount of liquid resources. "It's got some lakes, some rivers, and a high density of stock tanks or livestock ponds ranging from a half acre to one or two acres in size," the TPWD biologist said.

Of those three sources of waterfowl hunting, the private stock ponds just might represent the I-35 region's best overall waterfowling opportunity. They certainly could represent its most overlooked one.

Why's that? According to Mason, a variety of ducks -- from mallards to gadwalls to teal -- will frequent these diminutive water bodies to feast on varied aquatic vegetation (like pondweed) along with a host of invertebrates. Add in the fact that hunting pressure is virtually nonexistent on most such waters, and it's easy to see why the shooting on a good stock tank can at times rival anything found west of Stuttgart, Ark. And this is particularly true the later in the season it gets.

"As for those stock tanks, in the late winter when the birds are beginning to pair up, we see high utilization of those ponds," Mason said. "They can hold a lot of birds then."

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